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How light is a neutrino?
Physicists are closer than ever to nailing down the mass of the elusive neutrino. A team at the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino (KATRIN) experiment in Germany found that neutrinos have a maximum mass of 0.8 electron volts. Researchers have long had indirect evidence that these mysterious particles should be lighter than 1 eV, but this is the first time that this has been shown in a direct measurement. The experiment has so far been able to put only an upper bound on the mass. But researchers might be able to make a definite measurement once it finishes collecting data in 2024.
Reference: Nature Physics paper
Extracting rare earth elements from waste
Zapping industrial waste with pulses of electrical heat makes it easier and cheaper to recover precious rare earth elements than with current recycling methods. Rare earth elements are essential components of solar cells and wind turbines, but mining them is difficult and damages the environment, and current recycling processes are inefficient and expensive. The new method will need to be scalable, say scientists, but it has an added benefit: there’s no need for harsh chemicals.
Reference: Science Advances paper
Omicron-specific shots offer no advantage
Early tests show that Omicron-targeted vaccines do no better than standard ones. Experiments in animals, the results of which have not been peer reviewed, suggest that a booster shot tailored to the highly transmissible variant offers no advantage over a third dose of current vaccines. Although most of the studies involved only a small number of animals, they offer hints that a customized vaccine won’t change the game against Omicron. “What these studies are teaching us are the rules of engagement of the immune system when you boost with a variant vaccine,” says David Montefiori, who has been studying COVID-19 vaccines.
References: bioRxiv preprint & 3 more preprints – see the full list here
Rocket due to hit moon may be from China
A rocket on a collision course with the moon was not built by SpaceX, as previously thought, but by China. The object, expected to hit the moon on March 4, was originally thought to have been part of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but now experts think it’s the debris of a rocket launched by the Chinese space agency. The initial supposed source of the rocket was based on data from Bill Gray, who has developed software for astronomers. Gray realized his error after communicating with Jon Giorgini, an engineer at NASA who runs the Horizons database, which allows users to predict the trajectories of objects in the Solar System. Looking back through the relevant data, Gray now thinks that the rocket is a booster for the Chang’e 5-T1, launched by China in 2014.
Image of the week
Features & opinion
Lander’s bullying raises questions of power
Eric Lander’s resignation for bullying raises questions about the structure of science advisers to the US government, argues a Nature editorial. As the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Lander was the top science adviser to US President Joe Biden, and as a cabinet member he implemented policy, overseeing the creation of the Cancer Moonshot and the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health. In most other countries, advising the government on science and implementing decisions are separate roles, to avoid potential conflicts of interest. The United States must reckon with whether concentrating so much power in one individual weakened accountability for Lander’s behaviour.
Further reading: Nature news story | 8 min read
Collaboration is key for Kenyan chemist
Veronica Okello studies sustainable ways to clean up heavy metals at Machakos University in Kenya. The environmental chemist advises early-career researchers to find a mentor at their institution to help them navigate their first university position. “Collaboration has done wonders,” says Okello: it’s helped her to win grants for her research and for analytical equipment such as an electrochemical analyser. But single-author papers are prized above grants and multiple-author publications in the Kenyan promotion system, a fact that Okello would change if she could.
Confronting phone addiction helped my science
When research chemist Adam Weiss found himself in a rut in his studies, he took the opportunity to examine his work–life balance. The doctoral candidate realized that he needed to give himself the chance to unplug during his ‘quiet time’ at the laboratory bench — and that meant literally turning off his phone. Weiss came to realize how a genuine addiction to his phone meant he was working more than ever — responding to e-mails and Slack messages over dinner — but getting less done. Reducing his smartphone use has already yielded success, as Weiss is currently preparing a review article for submission with his adviser and enjoying extra time to focus on reading papers and doing more writing.
Where I work
Paula Littlejohn uses an anaerobic chamber to grow gut microbes as part of her PhD research at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Littlejohn studies how gut microbial communities respond to deficiencies in vitamins or minerals that are needed in only tiny quantities. “We need to create information on daily nutritional allowances that meets the needs of specific populations, rather than attempting to help everyone with the same guidance,” she says.
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